Have you read Charles Mudede's piece "How Trump Turned Christmas Films into Horror Films"? If not, go read it! Then come back here. He makes such a moving, convincing case about the horrors of Christmas in the Trump Era.
"Instead of banding together to bail George Bailey out of a jam with their nickels and dimes, they've formed a lynch mob to string him up. Donald Trump has made Christmas movies into horror movies for anyone not born into the comforting illusions of white, small-town America... I never want to see the horror of Christmas lights in rural America again."
That feels right to me. I was born and raised in white, small-town America, in one of the rural Christian counties that heavily favored Donald Trump. By high school, I had no illusions about the vapidity of my classmates' religiosity and the homogeneity of their neighborhoods. I knew those people spent more money on Christmas lights and fireworks each year than on lunch money for their kids. They're hypocrites whose favorite game is calling other people hypocrites.
So now that Trump and his ilk have Christmas, does this mean Christmas is canceled? It would be high time. I can see how every one of those bajillion holiday lightbulbs flashes a little message that says America is a Christian nation, despite the separation of church and state enshrined in our constitution.
And yet, I love those lights. I was raised a Jehovah's Witness by a Jewish mother (long story), so I know a little bit about what it's like to feel excluded from some aspects of this holiday, but those lights brought me such a simple, stupid human pleasure. Growing up in Belton, Missouri, Christmas seemed to be one of the few things the place got half right.
With the exception of the summer county fair, Christmas is the one time all year that a town like Belton thinks of itself as a town—not just a collection of separate houses filled with people who (if they're lucky) live in separate rooms. The wreaths tacked to street lamps and even those houses with lit-up Santas all over them serve as a collaborative art installation that offers to all passersby the bodily pleasures of light and warmth against darkness, and even the spiritual pleasure of hope.
And another thing: As much as I hate to contribute to the urban/rural binary that this paper is so obsessed with, from my Belton perspective, the ultimate expression of Christmas was always in the big city. On television I watched movies like Home Alone 2 and Miracle on 34th Street and basically every rom-com. (My mom and I watched a lot of rom-coms: When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail.) I didn't want to be eating a Pop-Tart in my pajamas! I wanted to live in the city. I didn't want to own a hardware store! I wanted to be somebody. And the somebodies were businessmen in suits who window-shopped down Fifth Avenue next to women wearing pearls and muffs.
But Trump has stained even this parochial fantasy! He's the ultimate Fifth Avenue guy. He's the oversize Christmas tree in the middle of Rockefeller Center. He's the grotesque, gold-plated billionaire that only a city with income inequality as grotesque as New York's could have produced.
Now that I live in the bustling metropolis of Seattle, I walk downtown—past the homeless people this progressive, forward-thinking, non-Trump-supporting city forces to sleep in the streets—reeling from one of the New Big Unprecedented National Crises that fill my feed every eight hours, wondering if Patty Murray's interns are holding up okay, feeling like every step I take and word I speak must serve to foment the revolution or else why am I even taking steps or speaking, until that big, bright star of Bethlehem on the Macy's building blows me out of my head.
My first response is animal awe. I'm seeing a star on the human scale. My second response is the desire to keep feeling that awe. My third response is intellectual: The star is really a bullshit consumerist trap designed to make me think Macy's loves me so that I go inside and buy sheets on a credit card. But now my third response is this: That's Trump's star. The Grinch really did steal Christmas.
But I don't want to give that star to Trump. I don't even want to give one of those houses covered in lit-up plastic junk to Trump. I don't even really want to give Christmas to the Christians—who stole it from the pagans, anyway. I don't want to cede any power to the president-elect or the idiots who support him, and that includes my power to interpret symbols the way I want to. They can have my yuletide joy when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but does every single cultural experience now only matter in relation to this motherfucker?
When I stare agog at that department-store star for five minutes, I'm not thinking about Donald Trump. I'm thinking about everything else—glee, my stepmother singing a carol to herself, the possibility of actual happiness. I know many others take solace in this show of lights. And that turning away—for just a few moments!—is a jab at Trump. It's the least radical form of radical self-care.
The only artist I've met who has played in the room with a dictator is Lucas Debargue. He played Tchaikovsky's "Sentimental Waltz" for Vladimir Putin at a gala concert. When I asked Debargue if it was weird to play for a dictator—and in person, he could tell I was asking him if he felt like Putin's pet—he said, "In this kind of occasion, the music rules. The music is leading." Later he added, "When Putin put himself in the position of the listener, at that moment he was not the master. I think it's good. It's good when the machine stops so we can take a breath of something else."
In the United States right now, Christmas—a European tradition swirled with the symbology of prehistorical pagans, a day when even the Germans and British paused months of trench warfare during World War I (and then again in WWII) to celebrate with each other on grounds that swelled with the blood of their brethren—might be the only thing that's bigger than Trump.